BY AMANDA BLEDSOE, COUNCILMEMBER, LEXINGTON’S 10TH DISTRICT
The Budget, Finance & Economic Development (BFED) committee is tasked with being the stewards of public dollars, assessing the city’s overall financial well-being and proactively seeking opportunities for economic growth. As chair of this committee since 2018, I have focused on workforce development, small business support and fiscal accountability.
In 2015, I initiated a workforce grant program with the support of the council and the mayor at the time, Jim Gray. Through this program, the city of Lexington provides grants to agencies that are diverse in their missions and work plans – agencies that provide services that create jobs and grow payroll, providing economic growth and thereby enhancing the economic well-being of the community. Grants are focused on areas of need for our business community, including business and information, health sciences, manufacturing, transportation and construction/skill trades. This partnership produces seven times the dollar investment of the grant program that funds it.
Lexington also partners with economic development agencies for the purpose of providing economic and workforce development services. The past several years have presented historic challenges and required innovative approaches to keeping our financial “house in order.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, BFED oversaw the creation of a $5 million forgivable loan program for small businesses during a time when many sectors of the economy were shut down to in-person traffic. Lexington’s Office of the Urban County Council approved this program, supporting 345 businesses, of which 35 percent were female-owned and 2 percent were minority-owned. These funds were vital in helping employers and their workers shoulder the burden of pandemic-related impacts on their businesses. Our preliminary reports indicate more than 75 percent either maintained or grew their employment with the support of the grant program.
The BFED committee receives monthly financial updates from the finance team, providing us with an opportunity to assess the city’s financial situation on a regular basis, monitoring revenues and expenditures throughout the year. In January, we welcomed Mike Clark, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and an associate professor of economics at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics, to provide the council with an annual economic outlook for the city of Lexington. Clark and his team play a vital role in determining revenue projections for the upcoming budget process. This information will inform the budget process and discussions related to bonding, American Rescue Plan allocations and other financial discussions.
At the end of 2021, we implemented a Division and Program Review for all city divisions that will provide accountability and transparency in operations. Through this effort, each council committee will do a thorough review of each division across city government over the course of the next few years.